The myth of method

Probably the most Frequently Asked Question I get from prospective voice students is “What method do you teach?”  Sometimes when they hear my reply—that I don’t teach by ANY method at all—I get the impression that they are skeptical or disappointed.  But here are some thoughts on why I believe that no teaching method may actually be the best teaching method.

I’m going to define a “method” as a step-by-step system of learning to sing, maybe including a sequence of exercises designed to advance your technique.  Such an approach assumes that all voices are basically similar and that every singer’s technique can be improved by applying the same “one-size-fits-all” scheme.  Sadly, though, one size ends up fitting nobody very well.  Singing is simply not that simple.

My mentor Cornelius Reid used to comment that he had probably as many teaching methods as he had students.  He was not exaggerating.  He had hit on the truth that no two voices are the same; in fact no singer’s voice is the same from lesson to lesson (we hope!).  Because of significant differences in the physical make-up of the vocal cords and other organs, in temperament and attitude, in state of health, in level of training, in many factors, a teacher must at every lesson analyze and respond to what is actually going on in that student’s technique in that moment.

A method would not provide me a wide enough range of teaching options to meet these diverse conditions.  Often, faced with a student’s unique situation, I must at a lesson create a brand new exercise to address a vocal problem.  That same exercise might come in handy for another student at another time, but could be detrimental for a singer with different technical issues.  Every one of your lessons with me, therefore, will be custom-designed to help YOU advance to the next level of proficiency. 

Even though in my approach to teaching you will experience a perpetual state of experimentation and novelty, this does not mean that I am operating randomly.  I may not use a method, but my teaching is guided by adherence to PRINCIPLES.  Most of these principles were discovered hundreds of years ago during what was known as the first Golden Age of Singing, when bel canto (beautiful singing) was the goal.  You will become familiar with these principles—which mainly involve registers, resonance, and vowels—during your lessons with me.

My goal in teaching you (which was also the goal of the original bel canto teachers for their students) is to eliminate whatever is interfering with the reflex action of your vocal registers so that your singing can become truly free.  It would be simpler, but probably not nearly as interesting or satisfying, if I knew of a definitive path—a method—that would lead to this goal.  The more complex truth requires us to partner in a fascinating process that has a lot in common with scientific research, in which, guided by principle, our vocal experiments bring you closer and closer to your ideal voice.